Safety Concerns Spur Angel Shot Program

By Justin Horwath The Santa Fe New Mexican

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The "Angel Shot" idea is to give a person an alternative way of seeking help if they are feeling uncomfortable during a night out. By asking a bartender for an "Angel Shot", customers can signal to a bartender that they may be in a dangerous situation and need help.

The Santa Fe New Mexican

Bars across Santa Fe are advertising a new type of shot that could help customers get out of trouble rather than into it.

Ask a bartender for an Angel Shot, and you won't get alcohol. Instead, it's a code by which customers can signal that they may be in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation -- a Tinder date, for instance, who is making unwanted advances. Tinder is a popular dating app.

New posters sponsored by Santa Fe County have gone up in restrooms at participating establishments with instructions on how it works.

If you order an Angel Shot "neat," you are asking to be escorted to your vehicle by a bar employee. If you order an Angel Shot with ice, you are asking the server to find you a ride home from a ride-booking service such as Uber or Lyft.

Order an Angel Shot with lime, and you are asking the server to call police.

"We are deadly serious," the posters say. "This could save your life."

Peter Olson, DWI prevention specialist for Santa Fe County, said county sponsorship of the Angel Shot program came out of meetings in April between city, county, business and law enforcement officials to address concerns about four reports of sexual assaults of women who were drinking alcohol at bars in the Railyard and downtown.

Olson would not name the establishments. He said the sexual assaults occurred between January and April, and that there were different perpetrators in each case.

"The general facts were it was a woman, overserved, intoxicated, [who] was taken advantage of," Olson said. Santa Fe police Lt. Judah Ben Montañosaid he could not disclose more details about the cases because police are still actively investigating them.

The Angel Shot idea is to give a person an alternative way of seeking help if they are feeling uncomfortable, said Santa Fe police spokesman Greg Gurulé. The program, he said, "sounded like a good idea that might help defuse some tense situations and help avoid problems, so we are on board with it."

"It doesn't have to be a rape [threat]," Gurulé said. "[It] can be anything that would make a person uncomfortable with another. The system is already working in states like California and Florida."

The Lincolnshire Rape Crisis Center in England reportedly started the idea last year with posters encouraging women to "Ask for Angela" as a way of signaling bar staff to discretely help with a ride home because they are in an unsafe situation with a date, according to BBC News. The posters went viral on social media, and the idea spread across the pond.

Boxcar, a bar and restaurant on Guadalupe Street in the Santa Fe Railyard, was perhaps the first bar to introduce the idea in Santa Fe, even before the county provided sponsorship.

Sylwia Handzel, 28, two years ago took over ownership of the bar with her boyfriend, Tate Mruz, general manager. A renovation stressing more lighting and open space was one way to upgrade the bar's image, said Handzel, who was a server at the establishment's predecessor, Junction.

Angel Shot posters were another way to create a welcoming environment for women, she said. Boxcar began putting up its own posters in the women's restroom last year at the suggestion of a regular customer who saw the idea on social media, Handzel said.

"You want people to feel safe," she said.

Handzel said there have been no reports of sexual assaults of Boxcar customers after they put up the Angel Shot posters, and no customer has ordered an Angel Shot with lime to signal for police.

Three customers have requested an Angel Shot since the posters went up, she said. In the first case, a Boxcar employee escorted a woman to her car after a man was being "fresh" with her, according to Handzel.

In the second case, a man ordered the shot as a joke, she said. The joke did not go over well with staff, she said, and the man was embarrassed.

"That was received with grave looks," she said.

In the third case, a woman requested an Uber, she said. In such instances, the bar will order an Uber from its own account at no charge, Handzel said. She said she's not worried about a customer abusing the Angel Shot to get a free ride, but will address the situation if it arises.

On Friday afternoon, Iva Voyles, 50, ate lunch at Boxcar's bar with her husband, Trinidad Aragon, 50. Voyles said the Angel Shot program is a great idea, especially considering how the internet changed the dating scene over the years. When she was younger, she said, it was rare for a woman to date a man she had not already previously met or knew through other connections.

Now, she said, "people are meeting online before they meet in person."

Aragon said he worked security for Santa Fe liquor establishments for more than three decades, including Cheeks and The Barrelhouse, now closed. He estimated that in 32 years working bar security, women asked him on more than 1,000 different occasions to separate them from a man.

Olson said not much county funding is going into the program. The county paid Firetik Studio of Santa Fe to design the posters, and beverage distributor Southern Glazer's Wine and Spirits is picking up the printing costs for 150 posters.

Olson said he has distributed posters to 25 different establishments. The county does not track whether someone orders an Angel Shot, Olson said.

Circumstances that may warrant a request for an Angel Shot are intentionally vague. The posters ask: "Do you feel unsafe or even just a bit weird? Here's how to ask for help. Go to the bar and order an ANGEL SHOT."

Similar versions of the program across the country only put the posters in women's bathrooms. But Olson said that in Santa Fe the posters may also be found in men's restrooms "because of the gay, lesbian population, it's not just man on woman; it could be male on male or female on female."

The city also has an ordinance requiring that single-stall public restrooms must be gender-neutral.

Olson said that while business and law enforcement leaders debated about how placement of the posters might tip off potential perpetrators, "we decided that it was more important for everybody to know that this is an option and an easy way to ask for help because, especially younger people ... don't always know how to ask for help."

Montaño said anyone who feels uncomfortable can call police directly; the Angel Shot with a lime is just another way to do that when someone does not know who to turn to.

The posters also are on the walls of the city police headquarters, and officers are aware of the program.

"What we tell everybody is just know where you're at, know who you're around," Montaño said. "... And anytime you feel uncomfortable, we'll be there, from everything to investigate a crime or just to walk someone to their cars to ensure that they make it home safe."

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